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Reviewed by:
  • Cities, Sin, and Social Reform in Imperial Germany
  • Lynne Fallwell
Cities, Sin, and Social Reform in Imperial Germany By Andrew Lees ( Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2002. xi plus 432 pp. $70.00).

In Cities, Sin, and Social Reform in Imperial Germany, Andrew Lees examines the confluence of three forces at work in Imperial Germany; industrialized urbanization, the (re)definition of moral order, and middle-class activism as the determiner of that moral order. He rejects the notion that turn-of-the-century middle class Germans were a passive lot, obediently being swept along the special path, Sonderweg, of German history. Instead, Lees allies himself with the work of Geoffrey Eley, David Blackbourne, and particularly Thomas Nipperdey, presenting the view of German middle-class society as one marked by numerous attempts at progressive reform from within.

Lees' principle interest rests in recapturing the importance of individual agen- cy. How did citizens of Imperial Germany see themselves as dynamic forces influencing the environment in which they lived? He cautions readers not to become so overwhelmed by Bismarkian reforms as to overlook the reformist actions of individuals and the organizations to which they belonged. Initiatives for change came as much from the citizenry as from the state, with volunteerism and government developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Although they were united by a common interest in change, however, Lees also establishes the relative heterogeneity among reformers. By no means did they all embrace the same ideology or present the same platform for transformation.

Lees' ten main essays are arranged thematically in three sections reflecting the book's title, Cities, Sin, and Social Reform. Part One: The Big City Perceived examines the rise of the modern industrialized German city through the lens of social reaction, both positive and negative. Lees begins his discussion by outlining the development of anti-urbanism, starting with men like Wilhelm Heinrich Reihl and progressing through the work of Georg Hansen, Otto Ammon, Ferdinand Tönnies, and others. Next, he pushes beyond the image of the city as a life-crushing Behemoth portrayed in much of the anti-urban literature, stressing instead examples of how those seeking change tackled problems of urban life by offering a mix of positive and pragmatic solutions. Citing the work of social scientists like Karl Bücher and Gustav Rümelin, who saw the city as an "integrated skeleton," Lees establishes how many were drawn to the cities because of the potential offered by urban settings.(p.55) They regarded cities as a fountain of economic, cultural, intellectual, and personal opportunity. Others less enamored by the urban landscape nevertheless saw city expansion as inevitable, and sought therefore to make the best of the situation.

In Part Two: Deviancy Perceived, Lees takes on definitions of sin, illegality and immorality. The section's first essay addresses connections between urban growth and issues of moral conduct and self-discipline. Again, Lees stresses the heterogeneity of responses among members of the middle class. Anti-urban thinkers feared the anonymity of the city setting would lead to a lack of discipline and therefore dalliances with immoral behavior. In contrast, urban expansion advocates saw city dwellers as possessing a stronger sense of self-discipline and voluntary community spirit, which translated into positive behavioral choices. The section's second essay shifts focus from morality issues to illegal activities. Here, Lees chronicles how views of deviant behavior divided into [End Page 834] two camps, those who though criminals were born and those who thought they were created by social conditions. Whether nature or nurture, a common point was the change in attitudes regarding the purpose of justice, shifting from retributive to reformative intent. The aim became to protect society from harm, rehabilitating those who could be and containing those who could not.

The third thematic section, Social Reform, comprises the bulk of Lees' work with six chapters divided into two subgroups. Part 3: Urban Reformers and Their Visions of Virtue consists of four essays, each focusing on the actions of a different urban reformer; Viktor Böhmert, Johannes Tews, Walther Classen, and Alice Salomon. Through the portrayal of these four, as well as mention of other relevant contemporaries, Lees...


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